The redesign of Russia’s digital landscape in the wake of Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine continues to unfold at the macro and micro levels. Here’s a development on the latest front: local tech giant Yandex has quietly removed national borders from its mapping product.
Users of Yandex’s maps app, which is popular in countries in the CIS region, can still see the country names, but lines showing the exact borders between countries are no longer visible.
We understand the move is an attempt to evade political pressure from the Kremlin over the war in Ukraine — where the Putin regime is trying to redraw physical borders through bloody, military aggression.
A Yandex spokesperson didn’t explicitly mention the reason for taking the drastic step to erase national borders from its mapping product when asked for comment, but in a statement, the company confirmed it has removed the national borders – the change as part of a shift in emphasis on local navigation. Which is, er, quite a head spider.
“Yandex Maps is a universal service that helps people find nearby organizations and places, choose public transport and plan convenient routes. These are the main use cases for our users,” said the spokesperson. “In the near future, the map will become more physical-geographical at scales where it is not being used for its main purpose, which is map overview scales. The emphasis there shifts from national borders to natural objects.
“Our goal is to show the world around us. Therefore, some objects – such as mountains, rivers, lines of the Arctic Circles and other data specific to this type of map – will appear on it.”
Yandex’s maps app seems to handle other potential political disputes – such as different names for places or different English transliterations of Ukrainian place names (i.e. based on Ukrainian or Russian pronunciation) – either by adjusting the display based on the location of the user ; or display conflicting options on the map, separated by a ‘/’ symbol. Also, presumably, in an effort to avoid political controversy and to be able to claim neutrality.
In recent months, the Russian tech giant announced a more sweeping reconfiguration of its company aimed at reducing its political risk: it announced the sale of its news aggregator and blogging platform products, News and Zen, to another local tech giant, UK – which had received criticism from such as imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny for allowing his platforms to be used to bolster Putin’s propaganda.
How successful Yandex’s tactics are at mitigating its risks from inside and outside Russia remains to be seen — as most of its operations and personnel are trapped under the Kremlin’s dictates.
Earlier this month, the European Union added a second of Yandex’s top executives — co-founder, CEO and executive director, Arkady Volozh — to its sanctions list, sparking another drop in its share price, although the company itself has not been sanctioned. . Volozh responded by stepping down, but Yandex called the EU’s decision “totally unjust” and “based on a misunderstanding of Arkady and what Yandex is all about”.
“Instead of being sanctioned, Arkady should be commended for building from the ground up one of the most independent, modern and progressive companies in Russia and one of the most innovative companies in Europe; a true pioneer in search, driving, mapping and navigation, and autonomous vehicles just to name a few of the areas where Yandex excels,” the company added in a statement expressing its disappointment Monday.
In March, the EU also approved Deputy CEO and Executive Director, Tigran Khudaverdyan, who also stepped down at the time. While Yandex’s share price has fallen more than 70% since mid-February.